Father strode towards the meeting room and I followed in his wake. Shoving open the door, we found the room already occupied by four people, two males and two females. Of whom, the two males were in the process of bickering intensely. They fell silent when we entered.
Father walked over to the head of the table and took his seat. Despite my general disregard for etiquette, after months with Ceres, I at least knew that taking a seat would be very impolite behaviour in this situation. Not knowing what else to do, I went and simply stationed myself behind father’s chair.
That didn’t stop the four of them from thoroughly scrutinizing me. I felt like a choice cut of meat being appraised for tenderness and taste. I suppressed my discomfiture as best as I could and smiled at them as politely as I could manage. In turn, I took in their appearances.
The two males were closer to father’s seat, one on each side, with the two females seated beside them farther down the row. If I were to take a guess, the two males would be Majors and the females their respective Lieutenants; noticing their resemblance in their bestial characteristics, probably their wives as well.
The man to father’s right was an Ursa. His broad stature and rounded bear-like ears were a dead giveaway for his bloodline. And like most males of his clan, his beard and hair were thick and unruly, covering most of his face.
The woman to his side was unusually slim for her clan, her red furred ears reminding me of the illustrations of red pandas I had seen in a bestiary back in the clan library. I couldn’t feel any sort of mana fluctuation from the man, telling me that his element was probably earth while the woman’s mana was elusive and shadowy in nature.
Father introduced them to me. “This is Vincent Ursa, Major of the Firang contingent, and,” pointing to the woman, “Ava Ursa, his Lieutenant and wife.” Indicating the man to his left, he introduced, “And this is Major Del Tauros, commander of the artillery division here and sitting by his side is his lieutenant and wife, Neera.”
Then he pointed at me. “And this is my son, Mars.”
Del Tauros was a large man, though not as large as Vincent, he easily matched father’s stature. His mana gave off a wild aura, telling me that his element was fire. His well-oiled horns curved proudly upwards, gleaming in the light of the room. And his well-oiled moustache was twirled into a matching shape.
It was with the willpower born of being the husband of three beautiful women that I was able to keep my gaze from straying below the neckline of Neera Tauros. Suffice it to say that her assets did her bovine bloodline proud.
The gentle fluctuations of her water mana were underlaid by a sensation of straight lines and right angles. It was very difficult to describe in words but it felt logical and illogical at the same time – like touching a still surface of water and seeing square ripples instead of circular ones.
It seemed that she was the brains and her husband the brawn in their duo.
It was surprising, really. After my mindscape had shattered, I had been extremely depressed for some time before rallying my spirits with great difficulty. It meant that all the effort I had put into my training since my childhood was rendered meaningless after all.
But now that I knew that the loss of mindscape might just have been a blessing in disguise, I was finding new advantages of my current state every passing moment. The ability to sense the elemental fluctuations of a person could give me a vague insight as to what kind of person they were and their current mental state, a weakened version of what happened when I presided over a marriage.
This sort of empathy was incredibly useful in social situations. Ceres would love to have it at her disposal.
Ceres. The thought of her still lying unconscious on a hospital bed dampened my excitement. I hoped that she would wake soon and tell us about her situation. What kind of person was she, really?
Other than that, I could get a rough estimate of their magical strengths. Both of the men and Neera Tauros were at Tier 4 while Ava Ursa seemed to be a peak Tier 3 mage. As a Bestia, there was no good way to appraise an opponent’s level without resorting to invasive means like inspecting their mindscape with one’s own mana, which was as subtle as a sledgehammer to the head.
Giving the four of them a standard military salute, I said, “Mars Felidae. It’s my honour to meet you.”
I felt Del Tauros’ temper flaring as he snorted loudly, sparks showering out of his broad nose. Ignoring me, he addressed father. “Hmph. Felidae, don’t think you can just do whatever the heck you want because you outrank us. What’s that whelp doing in this meeting hall!?”
Vincent Ursa’s voice was slow and ponderous as he spoke, every voice rumbling out from deep within his chest. “While I don’t want to agree with the boor, this is highly inappropriate. The meeting we are holding is about the Calamity. Letting a civilian audit is a breach of protocol. Whatever his relation to you might be.”
Del Tauros exploded out. “Who’re you calling a boor, you hairy lump!?”
I was quite surprised by the tone which they took with father. I knew that within the military, rank was stern and a minimum courtesy was required when speaking with a superior. These people were quite lax in their discipline.
Father’s secretly transmitted sound cleared my doubts. “The both of them were sent here from their respective portions of the province due to their history of insubordination. Ursa from the northern part and Tauros from the western part of the south-eastern province. It’s a kind of test for a new General like me to see whether I have the talent for command. If I can subdue them and make them work for me, I succeed.”
Out loud, he addressed them, interrupting the brewing altercation between the two men. “And if he isn’t a civilian but a Lieutenant?”
“Hah!? Impossible. There isn’t a Lieutenant in the Empire that young.” Said Tauros incredulously.
Father gestured at me, “Your token for the Swayamvar,” he sent. I took out the earth token from my pocket and handed it over. He tossed the token over to the half-bull who snatched it out of the air and inspected it by inputting his mana. The token shone a brownish yellow as it converted his fire mana into earth mana, a special characteristic of the material it was made of, proving its authenticity.
“Anyone in possession of a Trial token can take up the position and responsibility of a Lieutenant temporarily if the commanding officer of the military camp agrees. His followers will be treated as if they were ranked Captains. Any objections if he attends the meeting now?”
Restraining their arrogance, the four of them looked at me in a new light. Lieutenant Neera was the first to speak, her voice as gentle as her element, her two short white horns peeking out of her braided hair. “We have no objections. Welcome to the table, Provisional Lieutenant Mars.”